CA Forests Carbon Flim-Flam Scam

File this one under Extreme Absurdity. California has a new program to sell carbon offsets for not logging trees. Here’s the con game: landowners promise not to harvest certain trees, and then are paid $10 to $15 per ton for the growth. The buyers are mainly power companies who pass on the costs to their customers.

The details are murky, but the San Fran Chronicle tried to cast some light in an article that appeared last Sunday [here].

Forests break green ground by selling offsets

Ilana DeBare, Chronicle Staff Writer, September 7, 2008

Evan Smith wrapped a forester’s measuring tape around the trunk of Tree 10525, a towering Douglas fir, to figure out its diameter. Then he used a screwlike device to remove a thin wood sample from the trunk so he could measure its rings.

The bigger the fir, the more it would be worth to Smith. But not as lumber - as carbon.

Tree 10525 is part of the Garcia River forest in Mendocino County, one of two privately owned California forests that have been recruited into the war against climate change as certified sources of carbon offsets.

Carbon offsets - which have become popular among environmentalists over the past several years - are voluntary payments made to initiatives that reduce the level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Most U.S. offsets so far have supported technology-based projects such as solar power. …

There are so many absurdities in this scam that it is difficult to enumerate them all.

1. There is no global warming — the Earth has been cooling for the last 10 years

2. Carbon dioxide is a trace gas that has no effect on global temperatures

3. Warmer is better, anyway

4. Carbon dioxide is the key nutrient in photosynthesis, essential for Life As We Know It here on Planet Earth

5. Fixed carbon is stored more safely in boards than in trees. Just in case no one noticed, California has experienced 1.3 million acres of wildlfires so far in 2008, most of that in forests. At an average CO2 emission level of 75 metric tons per acre, an estimated 100 million metric tons have been emitted so far, approximately the amount of CO2 produced by 20 million cars driven all year.

6. Most of the forest fire acres were burned deliberately by the government at a cost of more than $500 million. Meaning that they got you coming and going. You pay for burning, for not burning, for boards, for not boards, for this, for that, and for everything until your wealth is transferred utterly and completely into the pockets of flim-flam artists.

More from the Chronicle (they name the scammers, which is nice):

But California broke new ground this year by including forests as carbon reduction projects - with the result that forest owners can potentially earn some money not just by cutting timber but by leaving it standing.

Supporters say California’s forest offset program could have long-term effects not only on the emerging marketplace for carbon credits but on the forestry industry and the future shape of California’s landscape.

“This could create a new economics for forest landowners based on conserving resources,” said Laurie Wayburn, executive director of the Pacific Forest Trust, which manages the Van Eck forest, the other of California’s two certified offset forests.

Early buyers of California forest offsets have included high-profile politicians and businesses such as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. …

The Garcia River forest is made up of 23,780 acres of redwoods, Douglas fir, tan oak and madrone hugging the coastal hills of Mendocino County between Boonville and Point Arena. The smaller Van Eck forest has 2,200 acres of old-growth redwoods in the far north of the state, near Arcata (Humboldt County).

Both were approved to sell carbon offsets in February by the California Climate Action Registry, a nonprofit set up by the state to develop reliable standards for reporting greenhouse gas emissions and reductions. …

The Garcia River forest was purchased four years ago by the Conservation Fund and the Nature Conservancy, with some financial help from the state. The Van Eck forest, meanwhile, is privately owned but managed by the Pacific Forest Trust.

Both Garcia River and Van Eck are working forests - meaning that, unlike a state or national park, they are being logged on a regular basis.

But their owners are logging very selectively, with an eye to preserving habitat for species such as spotted owls, Sonoma voles and coho salmon.

Both forests are now also being managed with a goal of increasing their carbon density over time. That means allowing trees to get bigger than usual before they are cut, or thinning out smaller trees so their neighbors can grow faster and larger.

“This is a fairly dense stand,” said Smith, a Yale forestry school graduate who works for the Conservation Fund, as he strolled through redwoods in the Garcia River forest last month. “If we take out some of the trees, the growth rates will go up. … A lot of trees grow fast, but redwoods store a heck of a lot more carbon on a given acre than almost any other species. They’re taller, dense, more closely spaced.”Before California’s program, there had been pilot efforts at selling forest offsets in other parts of the world, such as in rain forests that are at risk of deforestation. …

Mendocino County hosted the Mendocino Lightning Complex Fires this year, which burned 55,000 acres, half or more on private property, including 22,000 acres belonging to the Mendocino Redwood Company. And Mendocino County also hosted the Soda Complex (8,600 acres) and part of the Yolla Bolly Complex (90,000 acres).

In fact, Garcia River lost some of the trees on 700 of its 23,780 acres in one of the fires that whipped across California this summer.

By the way, the Mendocino Redwood Co. is sister company to the new Humboldt Redwood Co. formed out of the bankrupt Pacific Lumber and Scotia Pacific companies on July 30, 2008. The Mendocino Redwood Company was created in July 1998 with a long-term investment by the Fisher family of San Francisco and their investment partners. The Fishers are Doris and Don Fisher who founded Gap Inc., one of the world’s largest specialty retailers, with more than 3,100 stores and fiscal 2007 revenues of $15.8 billion. They operate four of the most recognized apparel brands in the world — Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Piperlime. Since 2004 Gap Inc. has been combating charges that they manufacture clothes using child labor in Asian sweatshops, but all that is peripheral madness to our tale of carbon offset absurdity. More from the San Fran Chron:

California’s standards introduced a new level of rigor and documentation that drew international attention.

“I recently gave a talk in Bali and got peppered with questions about our forestry protocols,” said Andrea Tuttle, the state’s former forestry director.

Whoops, I guess there is an Asian connection. Not only do Asian countries enjoy child labor sweatshops, they are also concerned about global warming and look to the geniuses of California for guidance in both domains.

Is it all about the money? Of course:

“In the next decade, it will double our revenue,” said Chris Kelly, California program director for the Conservation Fund. “It’s a blessing. We are now able to supplement our modest revenues from selective harvesting with offset sales.”

So far, Garcia River and Van Eck have contracted to sell more than 800,000 tons of offsets.

Schwarzenegger and Pelosi bought relatively small amounts in 2007 to offset emissions from some of their air travel. Other buyers have included carbon trading firms such as Natsource and CantorCO2e, a division of the financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald.

The biggest single buyer so far has been PG&E - which contracted for 200,000 tons of Garcia River offsets over the next five years.

PG&E made its purchase as part of its ClimateSmart program, in which homeowners and businesses can choose to add a small fee to their monthly utility bill to counterbalance emissions from their gas and electricity usage. …

So far the marketplace for carbon credits - as new and experimental as it is - has responded positively to California’s offsets.

Neither Van Eck nor Garcia River’s owners would disclose the actual price that buyers have paid for their offsets. But PG&E forecast that it would pay about $9.71 per ton for its Garcia River offsets.

That’s significantly more than the $3 to $4 per ton that buyers on the Chicago Climate Exchange are willing to pay for forest offsets from elsewhere.

“A California Climate Action Registry ton is the most sought after and has the highest value in the market at this point,” said Sean Carney, a carbon market specialist with CantorCO2e.

Both the price and demand for forest offsets could grow as the United States takes steps to combat climate change. For instance, California is currently developing a “cap and trade” system that would limit greenhouse gas emissions by large businesses, while letting them buy credits for CO2 reductions made by other entities.

Such a system - which might also be adopted by the federal government someday - would take demand for forest offsets to a whole new level.

All that is so absurd. Does this scam need more explanation? Just in case:

What are carbon offsets?

Carbon offsets are voluntary payments made by individuals or organizations to support projects that reduce the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Someone taking a plane flight to New York, for instance, might purchase offsets in a new solar power facility to compensate for the greenhouse gases generated by burning jet fuel during the flight.

Critics compare carbon offsets to the medieval practice of buying indulgences - a way to atone for one’s environmental sins by writing a check rather than making tough lifestyle changes.

Medieval indulgence purchase is a spot-on parallel. Superstitious symbolism over real substance, with a healthy profit margin in the mix. As P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Of course it’s California, so we’re talking a hundred or more per minute. Nowhere else and at no time in history has fleecing the gullible been so easy or so commonly practiced.

9 Sep 2008, 1:05pm
by Bob Z.


As I was reading through this post I was thinking three things:

1) I need to voice my opinion for personal mental health reasons;

2) I need to quote P. T. Barnum in reference to the buyers of these indulgences;

3) I will need to explain what indulgences are.

Then I finished the post and came to the parts where you and the SF Chronicle came to the same conclusions and did my work for me.

This is surreal, and at least as entertaining as Tropic Thunder. Thank you, California!

9 Sep 2008, 1:47pm
by Mike

Bob — Good luck with your personal mental health. This is one of those instances where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, right?

Let me remind you that our own monopolistic power company, Bonneville Power Authority, charges exorbitant and ridiculous rates to allegedly benefit salmon, but in actuality the money benefits grafting con artists who do far more harm to salmon than good. Way far more.

So perhaps profuse weeping is the “healthy” emotional response.

9 Sep 2008, 2:07pm
by John M.

Mike, you and Bob nailed it in your discussion of the latest flim-flam from the Land of the Lotus Blossom. However, the story illustrates why it is so difficult for the lay public to hear the real story of forest management. However, no laughing allowed since Oregon has its share of P.T. Barnums.

9 Sep 2008, 3:21pm
by Mike

Speaking of laughing and crying, view the following at your own risk:

9 Sep 2008, 6:32pm
by YPmule

Been shaking my head at these carbon offset scams for a while now. The ‘buying indulgences’ analogy is what came to mind when we first heard of it too.

People are willing to pay more so they can pollute with a clean conscious. How about making a change in our lifestyles to live a little cleaner? That makes more sense.

Had to laugh at the ‘hippies wail for dead trees’ video, they should be crying over habitat loss from from senseless burning policies! (I know us old hippies and rednecks have both been crying over our blackened stumps and brown streams.)

9 Sep 2008, 8:51pm
by Tallac

Saw the video a few days ago, and it is to laugh.

As they weep around a few of their “trees and rocks to be worshiped,” millions of acres of OUR trees, rocks, wildlife habitats and watersheds are getting smoked, thanks to their irrational ideology.

If they’re serious, they should be wailing at the foot of 30,000 acre backburns in the “wilderness” that spew mega tons of atmospheric gasses and ashes from illegal Whoofoos and other destruction.

But they wont. They’re too busy making weird videos and fundraising that uses wood pulp, minerals, and evil energy.

Hypocrisy at it’s finest, much like the last nut that was finally plucked from a tree today on the Berkeley Campus with his plastic ropes, water jugs and man-made perch after 22 months.

They got their 15 minutes of fame. Maybe for these people, that is all their twisted and convoluted lives are all about.

It’s too bad that they have to ruin it for the rest of us in the meantime.

9 Sep 2008, 9:13pm
by Mike

My problem with all this, the CA carbon flim-flam, the wailing hippies, the street people in oak trees, is that I can’t believe any of it is real. They must be spoofs. Aren’t they?

How do you mock people who make a mockery of themselves? Buy my offsets? It’s laughable. Are they serious? Wailing in the woods? That has to be a joke, right?

I can’t tell anymore. It all seems to be a spoof to me. Bad craziness. Are they really insane, or just putting us on?

One thing is for sure: the fires are very real. Not a joke. Not a spoof.

I think it’s time for a mass reality check.

9 Sep 2008, 9:25pm
by Joe B.

The wailing ones, carbon offsetters, and street people in oak trees know of no reality.

To make a political observation, the modern day liberal does not know reality. The modern day liberal believes the government can do any job, when the government has yet to prove they can do any job at a better efficiency than the private sector.

The enemy does not live in reality, they feast on false perceptions to create their own fake reality that you and I are forced to deal with.

9 Sep 2008, 11:24pm
by Tallac

Wish it was a spoof. But it’s mostly real.

Saw the last radical leave his “crows nest” from the top of a scalped redwood with staging 80 feet high, cranes and cops, live video helicopters above and saddened reporters on the ground below resigned that UC Berkeley can now finally add a sports center next to the stadium.

It was one of those media moments you’ll never forget. Almost better than a slow speed chase, and took almost as long. (+22 months)

I’m sure you, I and others have spent time under these trees either entering or exiting a sporting event there, or just hanging out. It’s OK (Real)

As for the Forest Wailing video; Just some EarthFirst folks in the Carolinas, detached from reality, with a couple of dudes trying to pick-up weeping chicks, and then try to score. (Real)

Carbon Credits: I have them. Cheap. What you need? How much you want? How many pounds? Cheap. Don’t go to Al or Arnie. Good deal here. (Real)

10 Sep 2008, 11:32am
by backcut

Here’s the scam we should get into!


We sell fine individual trees as “Future Old Growth” that will be preserved “forever”. The individual trees will be part of a National Network where trading of trees and money to “upgrade” your tree to a more “symbolic and metaphorical” tree “who” reflects your vanity, whims and feelings.

Of course, yearly “maintenance” fees would be required (especially for the fancy-looking cheapo plaque that renews every year). The market for elitist trees could be mind-boggling!

10 Sep 2008, 1:05pm
by Mike

I like it. But maybe we could sell current old-growth trees and use the money to protect, maintain, and perpetuate them.

You know, bribe USFS officials to STOP INCINERATING THEM!!!!!!!!

Or even better, fire the arsonistic idiots and get the gummit to hire people who know something about forests and prefer to steward them rather than “recycle” them with megafire.

A lot of elite trees are being incinerated right this minute, by the US Government, for no reason other than BUREAUCRATIC INSANITY.

Perhaps we should use the methods recommended by 9th Circuit Judge Noonan: bribery, extortion, and collusion. Buy an elite tree and we’ll apply Mafia tactics to USFS officials to cure their INSANE ARSONISM. It’s win-win. We save our forests and they don’t get their legs broken.

10 Sep 2008, 6:33pm
by YPmule

Mike, I like your idea - sell the old growth carbon credits, and protect them from WFU. There are some big ol yeller pines up here, and we feel rather protective of them. There is a FS poster that says “Yellow Pine, Idaho - Don’t make us change our name! - Prevent Forest Fires” with an official Smokey the Bear logo. It was printed in 2006. Ironic.

Its too bad the EPA or the DEQ won’t slap the FS for exceeding air quality on these mega fires. And why is more money spent on less acres this year? My theory is there is a small black hole in the center of each giant ICP camp…

10 Sep 2008, 10:12pm
by Mike

“Why is more money spent on less acres this year?”

That is an excellent question that everybody ought to be asking. Part of the answer is that there are significant differences between IMTs. Some spend money like water while playing with fire, and others put the fires out right now. It’s the former that broke the budget, not the latter.

11 Sep 2008, 1:23pm
by Al

One (of many) things which bothers me about claiming carbon credits for existing forests is that the forests are going to grow anyway. How does saying that it’s now a “credit” really alter the global carbon cycle in any significant way?

Maybe if the forest was then fertilized with some of the fine organic fertilizers generated in our cities, then the increase in growth could be claimed as a credit, but I don’t think that the basic growth of the forest should be.

The “organic fertilizer” could also make the forest “certified organic”, which might have a positive value in some circles…

11 Sep 2008, 3:05pm
by backcut

Yep, Karma… I mean carbon credits are more like the barnyard variety of fertilizers. Investing carbon in our overstocked and flammable forests is worse than betting on the lottery. You only win if the forest doesn’t (or isn’t) burned.

I was absurdly proposing a moneymaking system to play on the guilty consciences of today’s rich folks, who think they can buy their way into Nirvana.



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